On my way to work yesterday, I was listening to the radio, a local classic rock station. On the morning show the DJ's usually present some opinion and ask viewers to weigh in on how they stand. Yesterday's opinion was "the price of traffic tickets."
The announcing DJ had seen a woman pulled over for speeding. This woman apparently sped by said DJ in a school zone and a cop was right on her tail. She drove a "fairly new" bright red BMW. The DJ, being curious, followed the car and cop into the McDonald's parking lot where they had pulled over. He described himself as being "about four parking spaces away," enough to be discreet. The DJ was upset by the exchange between this "good looking" woman and cop. He stated that she was laughing and appeared to be joking around with the officer as she was being issued the citation. He knew that she had been egregiously speeding and felt that she did not show proper remorse.
"Should traffic ticket amounts be based on income?" was the question on the morning show. The DJ proposed that traffic ticket amounts were not high enough for some people to "properly learn a lesson." The suggestion was that officers be able to access W2's or 1099's of drivers as a quick "income reference" when pulling them over and write a ticket for an amount proportional to their income.
My personal feeling is that the woman who was pulled over was laughing and flirtatious because she is beautiful and rich and some women are used to getting EVERYTHING that they want in life by batting their eyelashes and showing some cleavage. It is quite possible that she was trying to flirt her way out of a citation or at least lower the price. It also could be that she was nervous and afraid of being seen by someone she might know. Rather than "cowering" in regret, she may have been putting on a show to make the stop look like a mistake or just a routine pull-over, nothing big. That was my take on it when the DJ described the woman as "hot" and driving a fast car. Yeah maybe she wasn't remorseful on the scene, maybe the remorse will come later, maybe her husband won't be as willing to get her off this time as he has been in the past, people have different ways of dealing with confrontation, maybe this was hers.
These are the reasons why I think tickets based on income are a horrible idea:
1) This is a huge violation of privacy. The police already have enough control over us and knowledge about us when pulling us over, they don't need more.
2) In other countries police are not only allowed to exercise the "law" over people based on income and status, in fact, they are encouraged to do so. I don't want individuals in our country to have less freedom when stopped by a police officer than they already do.
3) A quick perusal of a W2 or a 1099 really tells nothing about the person's income as their expenses are not listed. In addition, there is usually a set of 1099's, not just one, quick perusal would be impossible. Therefore this quick reference is biased and tells nothing about where the individual stands financially.
4) What does the city do with the money? I have tried to find this out. About six years ago I was stopped and immediately given a ticket by our lovely "traffic patrol," the fee was reduced and I went to the local court house to pay. I asked several people where the money went and they didn't know. One woman thought that it went to pay her salary and the salaries of others processing traffic ticket fees.
5) What about people, like drug dealers, who have nice cars and presumably extra money, and no 1099? High money criminals would incur pauper level traffic fees.
6) The whole plan encourages tax fraud and a whole new level of government would be needed to patrol this.
7) Our legal system is already clogged. We have an attorney where I live who advertises her ability to get traffic fines reduced or eliminated and from what I have heard, she is good at her job. If a person is cited a higher amount, based on income, it is unlikely that they will willingly pay the full amount, no, they will take it to court and add to the backlog.
8) This is my personal feeling, but I really hate it when the government thinks that they should be the ones telling you how to spend your money. So you get pulled over for speeding and the officer decides that you are in a high income bracket and levies the fine accordingly. Maybe you had that money set aside to do a remodel on your house, go on vacation, send your kids to college, it doesn't really matter, it is your money, you earned it, you have a right to decide how it is spent.
9) Where do layoffs and firings come in? This is a consideration, especially in this economic climate. Maybe a person had a 1099 from the previous year that showed a high income, they have subsequently been fired/laid off and haven't yet filed taxes for the current year. Now they have to spend unemployment $$$ to go to court and prove that they don't have the money to pay a higher traffic infraction fee.
10) I do consider myself to be a moderately liberal person, but I get tired of rich people always being targeted as the "bad guy." It seems O.K to claim discrimination if you are poor or a person of color, but rich people never have that option. They are seen as having hordes of money that should be given to everyone in need and shared with the government. I know a lot of nice rich people who are not deserving of this stereotype.
This DJ went on to talk about how really poor people would be exempt because they are "not out driving around." Now that is just not true. I have known "really poor" people out driving around my entire life. Being poor does not give one the right to disobey traffic laws or be exempt from being pulled over by a cop if their car is not nice enough to target.
I think that traffic citation prices should be based on traffic violation record. I don't know if cops have this information available when they pull someone over or not, but they should. If you have a high amount of traffic citations within a certain period of time, your traffic fine should be higher. This would be an infinitely more fair way to increase traffic violation fines and "encourage remorse" if that is the goal.